For local restaurants, green initiatives are just smart business: Andrew Coppolino

Change needs to be both internal and external when tackling environmental and climate issues in the kitchens of the 92-room Walper Hotel, says Rick Knapp.

“What’s really important to us is waste reduction, recycling and proper composting,” Knapp, general manager of the hotel, said in an interview. “They can be difficult with the current systems in place and the way we do things.”

Solutions, he adds, must be found with external agencies as well as with the kitchen team.

“It’s about making the system work internally and making sure that when you separate the compost it doesn’t get contaminated with plastics, for example, so we are reducing waste properly as we wish,” a- he declared.

Reducing trips to landfills and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are central concerns for just about everyone, including restaurateurs, on the eve of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, which kicks off this weekend and aims to accelerate action needed to tackle climate change.

Restaurants and food services, like the one at the Walper Hotel, are taking action despite the year of the pandemic – and in some cases because of it.

Nicole Hunt, executive chef at The Walper, has built relationships with local producers, which she says means less travel and helps the local economy.

“It not only helps us know where our food comes from, but also how it is made,” Hunt said. “These relationships reduce our food miles, which we should all be paying more attention to.”

Keep the environment in mind

Like the farmer-chef relationship, the initiatives are not necessarily new. Restaurants have always had to be lightened and reduce waste of all kinds to be profitable. In 2007, when it was built, the Wildcraft Grill and Longbar in Waterloo was already looking to the future.

“We opened with the environment in mind. Our HVAC system extracts pollutants from the kitchen with hot air passing through a heat exchanger and preheats the incoming air so that we use less energy. And we installed the LED technology of the time to reduce the power output. With renovations in 2018, we made a full switch to LEDs, ”said Jason Ernst, Director of Wildcraft.

While Wildcraft is one of a large group of local restaurants, smaller restaurants are also eager to return to greater environmental responsibility.

Dan McCowan, chef-owner of Red House in Waterloo, says the little things add up, including proper composting and sorting of garbage and initiatives like converting to paper straws and digital menus.

Dan McCowan is the chef-owner of Red House in Waterloo. (Andrew Coppolino / CBC)

“It’s an evolution to build new habits,” McCowan said. “Now is a huge time to focus on this because one of the byproducts of Covid-19 was to go all disposable. ”

During the pandemic, Red House switched to take-out containers that customers can wash and reuse multiple times.

A local company, Ekko – whose slogan is “reduce, reuse, rethink” – worked with restaurants in the area to adopt their reusable containers. As COVID-19 declines and restaurants become more stable, Ekko co-owner Chloe Kruis says the industry can change.

“For most restaurants, it’s operational. It’s finding time, it’s training staff and it’s logistics,” she says of potential improvements.

Refuse to use certain common objects

Although currently a one-man business, Thompson Tran of Kitchener is one of the early adopters of sustainability in foodservice. He calls his Wooden Boat Food Company a “circular green economy” that takes “incremental steps” by focusing on one thing in 10 days, rather than trying to change 10 things in one day.

“The ‘R’ that’s missing in reducing, reusing, recycling is waste. At the end of the day, that’s the step we have taken,” he says.

Wooden Boat refused to use cling film, parchment paper and aluminum foil and is virtually waste free. Tran says relying on local and hyper-local producers, including farmers using regenerative agriculture, for the supply reduces emissions generated by transportation.

In a challenge to received wisdom, Tran says restaurants – and indeed all Canadians – “shouldn’t feel good” about recycling.

“Our waste, whether it is compostable, recyclable, biodegradable or just pure garbage, only 9% of it is actually recycled,” he said.

Zero waste kitchens

Restaurants typically bring in whole ingredients, break them down into portions, and cook them to make a variety of foods: it’s critical that they reduce food waste that costs them money and traditionally ends up in landfill, which breaks down into organic waste producing methane, a greenhouse gas.

Growing awareness of food waste has led to reduction initiatives on large and small farms: Wildcraft and Charcoal Group have launched their own in-house pilot program to boost recycling and composting of waste that could eventually expand. to all of the company’s brands.

“We do zero waste in the kitchen. We have compost containers and recycling bins at each station, including compostable portion bags so that if something deteriorates, the plastic doesn’t go to the landfill, ”says Ernst.

Chunks of leftover vegetables go into broth making, a centuries-old restoration strategy, and Ernst adds that sliced ​​fruit – which many diners don’t eat and which usually gets thrown in the trash – is dehydrated for them. toppings and less waste.

“The ends of the orange that don’t fit in a drink are dehydrated and turned to dust for a plate garnish,” he said.

Kennedy Phounsiri, left, and Mike Saengdala of Knife and Pestle in Kitchener. (Andrew Coppolino / CBC)

At Knife and Pestle Kitchener, pieces of salmon that cannot be used for sushi are used in other dishes, including the skin, which is fried as a crisp and flavorful garnish.

A few years ago, Borealis Grille in Guelph and Kitchener calculated that customer food waste was about 215,000 kilograms per year between the Neighborhood Group of Restaurants: The company cut back on bread service and condiments like ketchup, unless guests specifically request it.

“Before the pandemic, we were freezing food preparation waste and a farmer would come and collect the leftovers to feed his chickens, pigs and goats,” says Court Desautels of Borealis and his efforts to eliminate what goes to the landfill.

These seemingly are small steps, but for Tran such incremental change must continue in order to reduce emissions and our carbon footprint in the restaurant industry and beyond, he says.

“If a lot of us do small things, it will have a bigger impact than a multi-million dollar national initiative doing one big thing,” he said.

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Gladys T. Hensley

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